ST. LOUIS -- The New York Mets are running out of time and starting pitchers at a dizzying clip.
New York took two of three in the series to move within 3 1/2 games of St. Louis for the National League's second wild-card spot.
"We came into this series knowing that we had to pick up some ground, and we picked up a game and that means a lot," New York manager Terry Collins said. "With the way we're playing and getting our pieces back, we're excited about getting home and playing in front of our fans."
The Mets (64-63) open a 10-game homestand Friday night against the Philadelphia Phillies, a stretch that could be critical in determining whether they will get to defend their NL championship. But they must figure out some way to keep a beat-up rotation together.
After losing Jonathon Niese to the disabled list on Wednesday, New York had to pull rookie Sean Lugo after five scoreless innings on Thursday when he sustained a right calf cramp while warming up for the sixth.
Lugo (1-2) gave up just two hits, walked three and fanned five for his first big league win. The best news for the Mets is that Lugo doesn't think this injury will cost him his next start.
"I wanted to stay in, but it wasn't worth the risk," he said. "That last pitch I threw in warmups, the third or fourth pitch, it felt different."
Lugo left with a 7-0 lead that New York never relinquished, even though the Cardinals (67-59) bombed four homers in the last four innings. Brandon Moss cracked two, giving him 25 for the year, while Jedd Gyorko and Stephen Piscotty belted their 21st and 20th, respectively, in the ninth.
None of those homers amounted to a thing beyond some fireworks displays to entertain a crowd of 40,023, as Adam Wainwright (9-8) lost his third straight start, thanks to a batch of two-strike hits and poor defense behind him.
The first three of the Mets' nine hits off Wainwright occurred with two strikes, as he couldn't put hitters away. However, the real problems occurred when errors in the fourth and fifth innings led to a whopping five unearned runs.
In the fifth, Wilmer Flores' two-out grounder that would have ushered Wainwright out of the inning trailing only 3-0 was botched by shortstop Greg Garcia for a run-scoring error.
Alejandro De Aza then made that situation infinitely worse, launching a three-run homer to the St. Louis bullpen in right-center for a 7-0 advantage.
After fanning Rene Rivera to end the inning, Wainwright trudged off the mound, having given up seven runs for the fourth time this year. In four August starts, he has coughed up 23 runs (18 earned) in 24 innings.
"Tough one, man. It's been a tough year for me," Wainwright said. "It's another game that we lose in which I start and the offense scores some runs. I don't know what else to say other than I've got to keep going."
The homer was just one of the highlights in De Aza's huge night. Drawing the start because Jay Bruce sat out due to a right calf cramp, De Aza stroked a two-run single in the fourth and also starred defensively, gliding back to the center field wall in the first to deny Matt Carpenter a leadoff homer.
"He knows his role," Collins said of De Aza. "He doesn't have to like it, but he accepts it and gets himself ready. All he needed was a chance to play, and when he got it, he's made the most of it."
Despite the loss, which dropped them to 29-36 at home, the Cardinals stayed 1 1/2 games ahead of Miami for the NL's last wild-card position. The Marlins lost 5-2 to the Kansas City Royals.
NOTES: St. Louis RHP Michael Wacha (right shoulder) is optimistic that he will return to the club this year, even though it will be transitioning to a relief role. Wacha, who is hoping to begin a throwing program next week, intends to return as a starting pitcher in 2017. ... After an 8-1 loss to the Cardinals on Wednesday night, New York optioned RHP Erik Goeddel to Triple-A Las Vegas and recalled LHP Sean Gilmartin. On Thursday, gave up two runs to the Cardinals -- on two solo homers -- in one inning. ... St. Louis 1B Matt Adams (right shoulder) started a rehab assignment at Triple-A Memphis Thursday with a bang, whacking a two-run homer in the first inning.